An article in the April 10 Howard Extra incorrectly stated that the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning has approved a nonconforming use for the Iron Bridge Wine Co., a wine bar that plans to open later this month on Route 108. A nonconforming use as a tavern was confirmed in November for the site's previous tenant, Crown's Pub. (Published 4/17/03)
Plans by a prominent developer to open Howard County's only wine bar this month on Route 108 are meeting continued opposition from some residents who fear the business will increase traffic, noise and crime along an already congested road.
Ellicott City developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. is converting a long-time neighborhood watering hole, Crown's Pub, into an upscale wine bar, cafe and gourmet coffee shop near Centennial Park in western Columbia. Restaurateurs Stephen Wecker and his younger brother, Robert, plan to begin operation of Iron Bridge Wine Co. by April 21.
The Weckers said the bar will open at 6:30 a.m. to serve coffee, scones and other pastries and will stay open until 11 p.m. during the week for patrons to choose from 250 wines. The restaurant will also serve tapas-like meals and sell bottles of wine for customers to take home.
"We really want it to be a fun place," said Stephen Wecker, 45, who previously acquired and managed the Elkridge Furnace Inn restaurant with another brother, Dan. "It really is about wines and people who want to learn about wines.'"
The structure with a stone facade sits across from the new Clark's Farm petting zoo and produce stand. Through the bar's front windows, cows graze on rolling hills as rush-hour traffic zips by on Route 108.
Some residents think the wine bar will damage the character of the community and ultimately bring other business development to the area. They say it also could result in more traffic crashes and inebriated customers who become disruptive.
"It's just one big nightmare," said George J. Paytas, president of the Beaverbrook Community Association, which represents homeowners in a nearby community. "We feel like we're being attacked by a guy with deep pockets. A lot of the neighbors have been here for 30 to 40 years and don't want to move."
The previous tenant, family-owned Crown's Pub, was established before the county adopted any zoning laws and was allowed to operate in the residentially area as a non-conforming use. In November, the county Department of Planning and Zoning approved a non-conforming use for Iron Bridge Wine Co. as well.
The new restaurant initially plans to operate with the liquor license issued to the previous owner, Ken Crown. It will then seek to have the license transferred. But according to state law, the owners cannot do that until after May 1, said Denise King, administrator for the county's liquor board.
Neighbors said they experienced few problems with the pub, a smoky barroom that some compared to a ramshackle version of "Cheers." The business served customers during World War II and developed a workingman's milieu of red vinyl stools, vodka fifths and beef jerky. Its patrons included bikers and blue-collar workers who watched sports on television, played pool and listened to live rock bands.
"On busy nights, you might find 10 to 15 patrons," said community resident Anthony D. Scarpone, 73. "It was quiet. There was no traffic, and there was no trouble. We tolerated that, but the introduction of this upscale restaurant, as it's called, we're fighting this thing."
Reuwer said the wine bar and cafe would be a significant improvement over its predecessor. It has a capacity of 40 to 45 people and has a renovated interior with a heightened ceiling, black granite countertops and a stained concrete floor.
"You go from a biker bar to an upscale wine cafe, how could that not be an improvement?" Reuwer said. "The building's a hundred times better than it was."
Reuwer has requested approval from county officials to construct a covered outdoor patio with seating for 44 people. The county's hearing examiner was scheduled to hear that request Monday, but this week Reuwer's attorney asked for a 30-day extension after officials from the county's Department of Planning and Zoning recommended that his request be denied. They said that Reuwer had not provided sufficient explanation for why construction should be allowed.
The wine bar ran into trouble soon after its renovation started, said J. Michael Evans, director of the county Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits. Reuwer built a concrete slab outside the building without permits, Evans said, and his department put a stop order on that part of the project earlier this year. Reuwer now wants to use the slab as part of a patio.
"This whole thing started out as a renovation project," Evans said. "The owner of the building took liberties with construction activities and got caught. They're doing a nice job, but they didn't get the necessary permits until the end of the project."
Reuwer denied any wrongdoing. "You can go through the whole list of what you can do without a permit," he said. "When we needed a permit, we applied for a permit."
County Council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) said that Beaverbrook residents have contacted him with their concerns but that he thinks the wine bar could be a community asset.
"I think what's being put there seems to be an improvement over the previous facility," Ulman said. "However, I think the residents have legitimate concerns about the traffic on Route 108. It's one of those situations where the road just grew up a lot faster than the neighborhood did."